Shrek the Third
The summer software dirge of 2007 is almost over, and the accompanying onslaught of Hollywood's gaming mediocrity is almost at an end. Yet, as Harry Potter and The Transformers saunter off to cash their (underserved?) performance cheques - and the likes of BioShock, Halo 3 and Assassin's Creed tantalisingly move into view by way of potential saviours - there's a particularly ugly green ogre still to leave his mark on the big budget movie tie-in genre.
In the cannily titled "Shrek the Third" old King Harold suddenly falls ill and, prior to turning up his regal toes once and for all, he reveals to Shrek and Princess Fiona that they are next in the royal line. However, eager to avoid the pressing responsibilities of monarchy, Shrek sets out to find the only other remaining true air to the kingdom, King Harold's young nephew Arthur Pendragon ("Artie"). Naturally, while Shrek is off with faithful Donkey and Puss in Boots tracking down the unwitting Artie, dastardly Prince Charming is doing all he can to usurp the vacant royal throne.
In this latest outing players are tasked with once again stepping into the role of heroic(ally repellent) Shrek as he battles fearlessly to save the land of Far Far Away from the ravages of Prince Charming's own special brand of Certain Doom(tm). Beyond the core attraction of becoming Shrek, players are also able to partake in frantic fisticuffs, swordplay, and general 'bad guy bashing' against untold dangers with a whole host of other characters, including the ever-faithful Donkey, Puss in Boots, and Princess Fiona, along with the likes of Sleeping Beauty and even the aspiring Arthur Pendragon.
The game offers up 20 levels of semi-platforming action across a three-dimensional but wholly restrictive fantasy adventure that loosely follows the movie's narrative structure while also wandering for the sake of shallow set-piece gameplay moments and sporadically scripted character swapping. While Shrek the Third is primarily aimed at the more pre-pubescent gaming demographic, its 20 levels of fist swinging, crate smashing and psuedo-platform jumping can be conquered in a meagre 6-7 hours - regardless of player age - and without ever breaking a sweat or raising any genuine sense of compelling interaction and/or fulfilment in the player.
The game's brevity and unappealing execution is, in the main, due to its extreme lack of challenge, its uninspired linear pathways, and also the gaping hole where developmental innovation and originality should be. Although the game world attempts to be lively and bright in its portrayal, the action (regardless of assigned character) is largely devoid of variety or impact. As it is, fights boil down to little more than mindless button bashing to beat up the bad guys and reach the level exit. Crates, barrels, and other containers and items can be smashed open along the way to reveal various health or content-related pick-ups, but even that facet swiftly becomes a 'through the motions' chore that only hardcore Xbox 360 achievement addicts are likely to tolerate.
From an aesthetic standpoint Shrek the Third falls well short of teasing even mid-point performance from the Xbox 360, merely feeling like an original Xbox title that's received an unjust sprinkling of fairy dust to deliver a more sickly sweet next-gen flavouring. Character animation is clunky and unbelievable, lacking any form of weighted motion - which is disgraceful considering the game's fluidly impressive source material. Also, the individual characters, playable or NPC, are also somewhat devoid of life - particularly Shrek himself, who, in terms of performance, makes Ben Affleck look like a five-time Oscar winner.
Ignoring the linear restrictions imposed on exploration and interaction, the frustratingly fixed camera is also a disappointing gameplay appendage that causes platforms to be missed during jumps, prevents visual searches, and leaves the player unsure as to their positioning in relation to obstacles and enemies. By way of exacerbation, the really rather charming level segues, which deliver the unfolding storyline via animated puppet-theatre shows, only serve as jarring moments of unrealised potential as the player repeatedly enters and leaves bland and uninspired level environments.
Unfortunately, and perhaps by way of the game's relevance in the overall Shrek franchise, the game's audio performance is also distinctly lacklustre. While in-game music is typically energetic and well orchestrated for a tie-in, it falls to the character vocals in Shrek the Third to provide the aural let down in this particular department. Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas and Cameron Diaz are all conspicuous by their absence here, and the sound-a-like actors taking their places via Shrek, Donkey, Puss in Boots, and Fiona, are distinctly hit and miss in terms of accuracy. In fact, they're often considerably more miss than hit, and though dedicated Shrek fans may forgive the lack of authenticity, the discrepancies do tend to grate after a while.
Again, Shrek the Third has clearly been created for a younger demographic, but that doesn't necessarily forgive its rather obvious shortcomings as being little more than a dreary franchise extra designed to solely provide an additional summer boost to Dreamworks' bulging movie coffers. The fact that fans of the movie (or rather parents of fans of the movie) will continue to blindly buy this sort of exercise in poorly produced gaming mediocrity means that movie tie-in videogames will continue to reap huge financial reward in return for the bare minimum of developmental effort.
Shrek the Third isn't fundamentally broken or inescapably unplayable, but its sheer middle-of-the-road laziness in every contributing aspect makes it all-but impossible to recommend to anyone accept blinkered Shrek / Dreamworks fanatics and those with a bizarre penchant for shoehorned Hollywood dross.